For the last couple of years minimalist shoe sales have been circling the drain, plummeting 47% between January and May of 2014 alone. This failure is due, in large part, to the dearth of research substantiating manufacturers’ bold claims about the benefits of bare-footed running.
But if the minimalist shoe movement has tanked, it has, nonetheless, left a serious impression on the running shoe industry. One of many minimalist attributes still available in popular shoes is a radically diminished pitch.
Minimalism, Pitch & Zero Drop Shoes
Minimalist shoes are lightweight, thin-soled shoes with reduced cushioning and little to no pitch between the heel and toe (most shoes elevate the heel above the toe). When worn, they are intended to simulate the sensation of barefooted-ness. If you have never heard of these shoes, you are, at the very least, likely familiar with Vibram’s FiveFingers—that kind that looks like gloves for your feet.
As mentioned, one of the primary aspects of the minimalist shoe is the diminished pitch (or drop) between heel and toe. The traditional trainer has a 12-14 mm pitch. Minimalist shoes usually have a 2-10mm one. The running shoe industry seems keen on retaining this particular minimalist attribute even as it sheds the minimalist shoe itself.
Some manufacturers have even begun emphasizing the importance of pitch/drop, by decreasing it to the 0-4mm range. This near level pitch is what characterizes “zero drop” shoes, which, unlike their minimalist forefathers, are often heavy and well cushioned.
The health benefits of all minimalist type running shoes are many and highly contested. An example: Vibram recently settled a class action lawsuit in which they were accused of making false claims about their minimalist products.
So what do manufacturers claim regarding zero drop shoes?
They claim lower heel heights return the stride to its natural state, taking pressure off the knees and other joints, and reducing both torque and impact forces on all parts of the body.
These claims are based, in part, upon the contestable belief that heel strike (which is apparently encouraged by a heavily pitched, traditional trainer) causes heightened instances of injury.
- Transition time. It takes time to transition safely from a normal running shoe to a zero drop shoe. Experts recommend that you keep an eye trained on running strength and form in order to avoid injury; and that you use a shoe with a 5-10mm drop before you proceed to the zero drop option.
- Diminished performance. While they may be better for you, zero drop shoes could potentially hurt your performance. This is another heavily contested issue.
- Zero drop may not actually be better for you. Many believe a heavy forward pitch (typical of the regular shoe) alleviates stress on the achilles tendon. Furthermore, concerns abound over whether heel striking is actually bad for your joints, and whether zero drop shoes even effectively prevent heel striking.